The "Inevitable" Hillary Clinton
Here in Washington, D.C., the home office of political self-promotion — where barely four years ago, fawning sycophants were busy measuring George W. Bush for Mount Rushmore — prevailing Conventional Wisdom has now moved beyond popular consensus over the suddenly "inevitable" presidential nomination of New York senator and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton to pretentious speculation about her choice of a vice presidential running mate (either Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland or former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones).
While ever reluctant to rain on anybody's Inaugural parade, I do feel obliged to offer a few cautionary notes concerning the current stampede to coronation.
First, now that most public-opinion polls and her own prodigious campaign fund-raising have established Clinton as the undisputed favorite for the Democratic nomination, let us stipulate that in a presidential nomination contest, national polls are a lagging political indicator. As of today, both Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards are polling better than was Arizona Sen. John McCain at this point in 1999 — just before he thrashed the overwhelming favorite, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, by 18 percent in New Hampshire.
What matters most is not who is leading in Michigan, Ohio or Florida, but instead who wins the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary. Of the last 13 winning presidential candidates, 11 of them first won the New Hampshire Primary, and the other two finished second.
What a big lead in national polls does guarantee the front-running candidate, however, is heightened surveillance and a more suspicious look from reporters. In the wise words of Democratic pollster Peter Hart, "A presidential nominee (even a presumed nominee) is forced to fly at a much higher altitude." One's faults are more widely visible, and an unforgiving press corps will subject to intense scrutiny not just the candidate's own position changes, but as well the possibility of any transactional arrangements involved in her husband's having raised billions from enormously wealthy individuals for his charity in the last few years. Her campaign aides, too, and their economic interests will be examined.
Because of Clinton's tendency to polarize voters' emotions toward her between affection and hostility, Democrats may begin to worry that her nomination could ensure the U.S.
One savvy, unaligned Democrat explained this week that a Clinton nomination, with the prospects of re-fighting the battleground states of Florida and Ohio, "would mean that the election of 2008 — like those of 2000 and 2004 — could come down to who can get elected 'president' of Tampa and Toledo."
Further evidence of the Red-State-Blue State problem revisited can be seen in the failure, up to now, of the indefatigable Democratic Senate campaign chief and Clinton endorser, Chuck Schumer of New York, to persuade enormously popular Democratic governors such as Brad Henry of Oklahoma, Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming or Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas to challenge potentially vulnerable Republic incumbent senators in what looks to be a very good Democratic year.
At least part of that resistance could be explained by a public Mason-Dixon poll this summer that asked Montana voters which presidential candidate they "would or would not vote for."
The highest "would consider" candidates were Republicans John McCain (62 percent) and Rudy Giuliani (59 percent). The highest "would consider" Democrats were Barack Obama and Bill Richardson, both at 55 percent. But 61 percent of Montana voters — who have elected two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor — "would not consider" voting for Hillary Clinton.
A poll done for Democrats in Kansas, where Bill Clinton in two presidential elections failed to win more than 38 percent of the vote, showed her being rated 15 percent less favorably than her husband. Her presence at the top of the ticket could potentially hurt Democratic candidates in red states.
But she does have one secret weapon, a genuine ace in the hole. That's the pathological hatred that blinds so many of her opponents on the right. You can count on them going way too far in the ugliness and the unfairness of their attacks upon her to where, if she is the nominee, Americans' sense of fair play could ultimately work to her Election Day advantage. But you can be sure that between now and next February, there will be no coronation.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.
COPYRIGHT 2007 MARK SHIELDS